Attempting totality: the making of an interdisciplinary

Magazines And Newspapers Litter the Intersection Of Sixth & Broadway After Debris Was Spilled From A Passing Truck, September 1972, US National Archives

A seminar with Prof. Cameron Gordon 

Roughly 250 years ago material output, income, and wealth took off, first in Europe, and then across the rest of the world. Economic historians generally define this transformation as a process of individual economic agents moving within competitive markets, and the institutional arrangements and behavioural incentives that the market system spawns. This viewpoint was a starting point for a third-year economics entitled “World Economy Since 1800”. But a grander attempt was made to teach the course and to write a book, Many Possible Worlds, by presenting modern historical economic change as an interplay of individual and social evolution, using precepts of sociology, political science, economics, anthropology, biology, geography, organisational theory, and environmental science, amongst others, and telling the story of industrialization as one interdisciplinary narrative. This talk reviews three aspects of this attempt at “total” economic history: (1) the pedagogical and research aspects of the process of going from course development to book; (2) the various discipline models used and the challenge of putting these together in a coherent and interdisciplinary way; and (3) the practical and theoretical “lessons learned” from the effort.

Professor Cameron Gordon is an Adjunct Associate Professor with the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU. Prior to that, he was Associate Professor with the Research Schools of Economics, and of Management in the College of Business and Economics. Dr. Gordon holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the City University of New York Graduate Center with a concentration in economic history. Dr. Gordon has held prior faculty appointments in Economics with the University of Canberra; Finance with the City University of New York, and in Public Administration and Public Policy with the University of Southern California. He also has held visiting appointments with the University of Sydney, Imperial College of London, Polytechnic University of Madrid, and the Centre for Research and Action in Public Health (CeRAPH) within the University of Canberra Faculty of Health. Before his academic career, Dr. Gordon had a long public service career which included work for the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Taxation; the US. Department of Defense – US Army Corps of Engineers; the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations; the US National Academy of Sciences – Board of Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment; and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Water Supply and Municipal Water Finance Authority. He has published many books and articles, the latest in 2023, Many Possible Worlds: An Interdisciplinary History of the World Economy Since 1800 (Palgrave-Macmillan).

Date & time

Wed 17 Apr 2024, 4.15–5.30pm


Level 1 Auditorium (1.28), RSSS Building 146 Ellery Cres. Acton 2601, ACT


Professor Cameron Gordon (ANU)


School of History


David Romney Smith


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